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Home Plant Lore Self Heal

Self Heal

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JULY 2012: SELF HEAL (Prunella Vulgaris)

Selfheal Description and Habitat:: Common throughout the British Isles and Europe the Self-Heal holds an equal place with Bugle in the esteem of herbalists. It is a very common plant throughout Britain and all over Europe and is abundant in pastures and on waste ground. In open and exposed situations the plant is small, while in more sheltered spots it will grow up to three feet in height. A perennial plant and member of the Mint family, its slender, creeping rootstock produces slightly hairy, square, grooved purple-red stems either solitary or in clusters. Entire or slightly toothed, the leaves are ovate to oblong-lanceolate in shape. Tubular and two-lipped, the tiny purple flowers grow in dense terminal spikes, blooming from May to October. The fruit is an ovoid, smooth, angled nutlet.

It can be immediately distinguished from other members of the Mint family because on the top of its flowering stalks, the flowers - to quote Culpepper - are 'thicke set together like an eare or spiky knap.' No other plant is at all like it. Immediately below this ear are a pair of stalkless leaves standing out on either side like a collar. Each flower consists of a two-lipped calyx, the upper lip very wide and flat, edged with three blunt teeth, the lower lip much narrower and with two long, pointed teeth. Both lips have red margins and carry hairs. Nectar lies at the bottom of the flower tube, protected from tiny insects by a thick hedge of hairs placed just above it. This flower form is specially adapted for fertilization by bees who alight on the lower lip and in thrusting their proboscis down the tube for the nectar, dust their heads with the pollen from the anthers and then on visiting the next flower, smear this pollen on the end of the curving style that runs up the arch of the upper lip and thus effects fertilization.

The plant does not rely wholly for its propagation on the four little nutlets as its creeping stems can throw out roots at every point to form new plants.

Common Names: Prunella. Brunella, Wound Wort, Brown Wort, Carpenter’s Herb, All-Heal. Hook Heal, Hook Weed, Hock Heal, Hood Heal, Slough-Heal, Heart of the Earth, Blue Curls, Square Weed, Hercules Wound Wort, Panay, Sickle Wort.

Cole, in “Adam in Eden” (1657), says:
'It is called Brunella, from Brunellen, which is a name given unto it by the Germans, because it cureth that inflammation of the mouth which they call "die Breuen," yet the general name of it in Latin nowadays is Prunella, as being a word of a more gentile pronunciation.' Brunella is the German term for a severe form of tonsillitis. The names Sicklewort and Hookweed refer to the hook-shaped upper lip of the flower while Carpenter’s Herb comes from its use in treating tool injuries. The Scots call it Heart of the Earth and boil it in milk and butter, dry it and stored it over winter to treat chest ailments.

The plant yields fibre dyes in shades ranging from soft yellow to brilliant gold.

Part Used: The whole herb, collected when in best condition in mid-summer.

Medicinal Action and Uses: There is an old Italian proverb which ways "He that hath self-heal and sanicle needs no other physician." Self-Heal is used today as a herbal treatment in every continent humans call home and has a widespread reputation of keeping people well during an outbreak of infectious disease. Used to treat Shingles, colds, respiratory complaints, cuts and bruises, internal bleeding, gastritis, sore and bleeding gums, ulcers and viral infections, the plant has an antibiotic effect and recent experiments indicate that self-heal has broad antimicrobial powers and also kills many pathogenic fungi. Also used to treat thrush, diarrhoea and to soothe and heal burns, it is considered excellent for convulsions and seizures, epilepsy, dizziness and vertigo, hepatitis, jaundice, dysentery, headache, high blood pressure, fluid retention and fevers and will expel worms.

Self Heal is a highly regarded European wound herb, widely used to stop bleeding and applied in poultices as emergency first aid on clean cuts. Culpeper recommended it for "green" (fresh) wounds, suggesting that Self Heal would be ideal to "close the lips of them" in the days before stitches. In the past, the flower spikes were considered to resemble the throat, and under the Doctrine of Signatures theory, whereby plants cure those parts of the body that they most resemble, self-heal was also used for inflammations of the mouth and throat.

Culpepper, explaining the name 'Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt, you may heal yourself,' tells us that “the juice used with oil of roses to annoint the temples and forehead is very effectual to remove the headache, and the same mixed with honey of roses cleaneth and healeth ulcers in the mouth and throat.”

In the United States Self Heal is collected in the spring as a tonic plant. It has also been used there to treat sore throats, stomach cramps, and urinary and liver problems as well as to kill worms and to help folks who suffered from fits. It is also eaten as a spinach substitute. In China it is called “hsia-ku-tsao” and is widely used as a tonic to change the state of the body from sickness to one of health and to treat fevers and rheumatism. Often taken as a tea which the Chinese consider cooling, Self Heal is used to keep the entire body well and to treat patients suffering from eye or liver trouble, to aid circulation and for conjunctivitis, kidney ailments, boils, and scrofula.

In New Zealand the plant is used as a first aid ointment for cuts, wounds, bruises, and sores. They also put the juice of its leaves and flowers on the temples to cure a headache. In Eire, it is part of a heart-disease treatment called Cailleach’s Tea, while Chinese researchers have found the plant to be an effective remedy for high blood pressure.

In the past decade, scientists have conducted many studies into Self Heal and confirmed that it has proven anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and it is also being researched for possible anti-cancer properties. It is also being investigated for possible use against HIV and the Herpes viruses.


Last Updated on Thursday, 02 August 2012 13:23  



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